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JT h e EL e g eAn d RNe d i s c o vGe r e dA B I N Words BY Sarah Bonnefoi

If there is one reason why Jean Gabin is such a legend, it’s because his career and life are a perfect illustration of his time. Born at the beginning of the 20th century he played in both silent movies and talkies, he survived the Second World War, worked in cabarets and for Hollywood. He acted in no less than 94 movies, which made him one of the most famous faces of French cinema. The BFI Southbank pays tribute to Gabin by showing some of his most famous movies in May. The season will start on May 2nd with an introduction called Anatomy of a Myth, led by Ginette Vincendeau, and the screening of La Bandera by Julien Duvivier. The life and career of Jean Gabin is quite astonishing. Not only did he play with the most famous directors of the last century, like Jean Renoir, Julien Duvivier or Marcel CarnÊ, but he was a legend himself. Born in Paris, he grew up in the countryside, north of the capital. At first, he was not at all interested in acting although his parents worked in the business. He had his nose broken at the age of 10 during a boxing match, though it later become his most famous feature.

" IF there is one reason why Jean Gabin is such a legend, it’s because his career and life are a perfect il ustration of his tiME" As he was not a good student, he started working at an early age for an electricity company as a cement worker and sold newspapers among other things. It was not before the age of 18, when his father made him work at the famous cabaret Les Folies Bergères, that he started an artistic career. But before he became an actor, Jean Gabin was a music-hall artist and an operetta singer. Gabin’s exceptional charisma and fame came in 1935 with the movie La Bandera. Later on, he would play in many of Jean Renoir’s movies: La Grande Illusion, one of the biggest successes of 20th century French cinema, La Bête humaine and Les Bas-Fonds. He quickly gained fame and acted throughout his career with fellow French stars such as Louis de Funès, Lino Ventura, Bourvil, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon and Bernard Blier. In the forties, while France was occupied by Germany, Jean Gabin refused to act and went into exile in America. He worked in Hollywood and dated famous actresses such as Ginger Rogers and Marlène Dietrich. His noteriety was such that he could very well have started a career over there. But Jean Gabin was very patriotic and he fought in the Second World War and took an active role during the liberation in 1945. After the troubled Forties, Gabin stepped back into the limelight when he acted in La Marie du port by Marcel Carné in 1950. The Fifties was a prolific decade.

"Jean Gabin is such a popular figure because he remained true to his modest origins despite his global fame"

He met Lino Ventura, with whom he became close friends, starred in a play titled La Soif and carried on working for the cinema: Touchez pas au grisbi by Jacques Beckers in 1954, La traversée de Paris by Claude AutantLara and Les Misérables by Jean-Paul Le Chanois. Jean Gabin is known for his rough voice, his Parisian accent and his rugged looks. When he was younger he played many - playboy - roles due to his good looks, but over time he started to play stout characters with sombre looks. He often was the gangster or on the contrary the police officer, remaining always faithful to his characters. Jean Gabin had an amazing career. He made many friends in the business and received many awards; he was awarded a Silver Bear at Berlin festival in 1971 for his astounding performance in Le chat with Simone Signoret.

Jean Gabin is such a popular figure because he remained true to his modest origins despite his global fame. After his tragic death from a heart attack in 1976, the ‘Jean Gabin award’ was created by his friend Louis de Funès in 1981. He also received an posthumous honorary César in 1987. The retrospective at the BFI will screen his most famous movies, which is a perfect way of (re)discovering an actor as well as an entire era of French cinema.

Jean Gabin: Working-Class Hero to Godfather is running from 2 - 31 May at BFI Southbank and will feature a newly restored version of Le Quai des brumes

Top 5 Gabin Films 1 . LA GRANde il usion (1937) 2 . Le Quai des brumes (1938) 3 . Le jour se leve (1939) 4 . Péepe Le Moko (1937) 5 . Melodie en sous-sol (1963)

Jean Gabin: The Legend Rediscovered  

Cinémoi highlights the upcoming Jean Gabin: Working-Class Hero to Godfather season at BFI Southbank, 2 - 31 May.